Residents pay respects to DiPietro

August 08, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

In a steady afternoon procession, residents of the city -- dignitaries and politicians, but mostly the regular folks of East Baltimore -- stopped by a Highlandtown funeral home yesterday to offer a farewell to former City Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro.

The term "legend" was on the lips of many as they described the man who had represented them for a quarter-century, who died late Friday at the age of 89. No council member had served the city's 1st District better, his constituents said.

"If he were an educated man, he could have been the president of the United States. That's how popular he was," said John Tirabassi, one of the dozens who passed through the Joseph N. Zannino Jr. Funeral Home on Conkling Street to offer condolences to his widow and family.

"He paid equal attention to everyone, even the kids. You were VVTC voter from the time you started talking," Mr. Tirabassi said.

Constituent service was Mr. DiPietro's trademark as a member of the City Council from 1969 to 1991.

"His political life was his life. I knew I came second," said Frances DiPietro, to whom he was married for 28 years. "I accepted it because I knew he was working for his people."

"He was a big help to us whenever we called him," said Lucy Tana, whom he had teased with Lucille Ball jokes because of her red hair.

Ms. Tana visited Mr. DiPietro in the hospital near the end of his life. His health was failing, she said. "I leaned over and said, 'Do you know me?' " she recalled. "He thought a minute and said, 'Oh yeah' " and referred to his old jokes.

Mr. DiPietro was a political powerhouse in his East Baltimore district, where constituents thought he could get almost anything done.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who served with Mr. DiPietro on the council for five years, remembered when a storm flooded Lakewood Avenue in the early 1970s. Officials didn't want anyone in the area, but Mr. DiPietro said he needed to get to his people.

"He hired a boat," recalled Ms. Mikulski. "He said, 'Come on, Mikulski,' " and the two surveyed the damage in the boat.

He was famous for his colorful speech, friends said, misusing words and making grammatical errors.

"He used to slaughter the English language," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "He'd say things and people would laugh. If I said them, I'd get hit in the mouth.

"But really, he was a great guy and a real friend," Mr. Schaefer added. "He really liked to help people."

In 1991, Mr. DiPietro was defeated in a re-election bid, along with two other incumbents on his 1st District ticket.

Former Mayor Clarence Du Burns, a long-time friend who served with Mr. DiPietro for 16 years on the council, said Mr. DiPietro's defeat was largely a result of redistricting.

"There were lots of new people who didn't know who he was," Mr. Burns said. "They were more sophisticated. They looked at Mimi as someone who didn't fit.

"He never got over it," Mr. Burns said. "But I think he'll never be forgotten. There's something about Mimi DiPietro that will never be accomplished by anyone else. He was strictly a people's man."

Visiting hours are scheduled today, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the funeral home, 263 S. Conkling St. A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. tomorrow in Our Lady of Pompei Roman Catholic Church at Conkling and Claremont streets.

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